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MCPS Officials: Congressional Health Care Bill Would Deliver Blow to Special Education Services

Superintendent, school board chairman detail concerns in letter to senators

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Montgomery County school system leaders are sounding an alarm about congressional health care legislation that they say could undermine special education services.

Students with disabilities and those living in poverty would feel the brunt of Medicaid funding cuts included in the American Health Care Act that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, officials wrote in a letter Tuesday.

“It is MCPS [Montgomery County Public Schools’] and the Board’s primary responsibility to provide a high-quality education. However, our students cannot reach their full potential and learn with unmet health needs,” stated the letter to U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

The message to the Maryland senators was signed by MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith and school board chairman Michael Durso. While some senators are expected to likely draft entirely new healthcare legislation, Smith and Durso wrote they wanted to call attention to what’s at stake for the 18,766 special education students and 6,995 Medicaid-eligible students in MCPS.

The proposal passed by the House would slash Medicaid by 25 percent or $880 billion and shift costs to taxpayers in each state, the letter explained. Some of this funding pays to provide health care to needy students and supports special education services by covering the cost of assistive technology and paraeducators. The Medicaid funding also flows toward vision and hearing screenings and other preventative care measures.

Whatever the odds that the AHCA will clear the Senate in its current form, Durso said school system officials wanted to make sure they voiced their concerns.

“I think the whole climate with the federal government and the president probably added to our concern,” Durso said. “I’m just fearful in some cases that if we let things go or assume they’re going to take care of themselves, it could be dangerous.”

The letter states that serving special education students and Medicaid-eligible students costs MCPS about $5 million annually. Shifting a financial burden to the state could also lead to “dramatic reductions” in services, since Maryland is grappling with budget deficits, Durso and Smith wrote.

“Even though we’re a long way off of whatever’s going to happen with health care, we thought it was important for our two senators to be aware of the potential impact that it could have on a chunk of our students,” Durso said.

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